Crohn’s disease is defined as an inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal tract, often affecting the small intestine and colon. The entire lining of the intestines may be affected while healthy bowel can still be found between the abnormalities. Crohn’s disease causes swelling in the deep tissues of the affected organs. This swelling can be extremely uncomfortable for Crohn’s sufferers. The pain of the swelling can also cause the frequent emptying of the intestines. This frequent emptying often leads to diarrhea.

Crohn’s disease belongs to a group of disorders known as inflammatory bowel disorders. Because there are a variety of disorders that affect the gastrointestinal tract, Crohn’s disease can be fairly difficult to diagnose. It is often mistaken for irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis.

Crohn’s disease affects men and women equally and is more often diagnosed in patients between the ages of 20-30. People of Jewish descent have an increased risk factor of developing Crohn’s disease, while people of African descent have a decreased risk of developing Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease affects as many as 1 in 544 people in the United States. Smoking increases the risk of Crohn’s disease, and it is more likely in people who eat a high-sugar, low-fiber diet.

The cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown although many theories exist. One of the more popular theories is that the immune system of a Crohn’s sufferer reacts abnormally to the introduction of bacteria and food. The immune system identifies the materials as foreign. The body then attacks the foreign material leading to an increase of white blood cells in the intestinal tract. The buildup of the white blood cells causes inflammation. The inflammation then leads to ulcerations and bowel injury.

The most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease are abdominal pain and diarrhea. Rectal bleeding, weight loss, arthritis, skin problems, and fever may also occur in the Crohn’s sufferer. Painful tears around the anal area can also occur. In severe cases, mouth ulcers, joint pain, and rashes can occur all over the body. Crohn’s disease is characterized by inactive and active periods. When the Crohn’s sufferer is experiencing symptoms, Crohn’s disease is said to be in the active period. Crohn’s disease is said to be in an inactive period when the sufferer is not experiencing symptoms.

Among the complications to Crohn’s disease are fistulas and abscesses that occur in the bowel or neighboring regions. The fistulas and abscesses can lead to recurrent infections in the Crohn’s sufferer. Crohn’s disease sufferers that have had the disease for more than 8 years are at an increased risk for the development of bowel cancer.

Crohn’s disease is diagnosed by a thorough physical exam and an in depth series of lab tests. Blood tests are given to check for anemia and to check the white blood cell count. Stool samples are taken to check for blood. An upper GI series may be completed so that the physician can see how the region is affected. Sigmoidoscopys and colonoscopies also administered to inspect the level of inflammation and/or bleeding in the Crohn’s sufferer. A biopsy of the area may also be ordered for further inspection.

Chron’s disease has a variety of treatment methods. These include medications, nutritional supplements, surgery, or a combination of treatment options. The treatment plan varies widely from case to case of Crohn’s disease. Treatment is based on the level of symptom severity. The goals of Crohn’s treatment is inflammation and pain relief, correction of nutritional deficits, and other undesirable symptoms such as diarrhea.

While no special diet has been widely approved for the reduction of Crohn’s symptoms, it is up to the individual Crohn’s sufferer to eat less of the foods that may worsen their symptoms. Crohn’s disease sufferers should only take nutritional supplements with health care provider approval.

The future for Crohn’s disease sufferers is filled with hope. There are several foundations dedicated to the research and treatment of Crohn’s disease. Several therapies are currently being investigated and developed.

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